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DHSMV to Retrain Supervisors on Quota Laws

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A North Florida highway patrol supervisor told troopers last week to step up their ticket writing from 1.3 tickets an hour to 2 tickets an hour.
Citation quotas are illegal in Florida.
“We will immediately designate that quotas are prohibited by Florida law in our FHP policy,” said Executive Director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Rhodes appeared before her bosses, the Governor and Cabinet to explain how the department is responding to the controversial memo sent by Major Mark Welch.
“Stupid statement. That’s the only way to describe what that person said,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
To prevent future mishaps the Florida Highway Patrol will be putting their supervisors through online training courses.
“To ensure that they know what the Florida law is and what the quotas means by statute,” said Rhodes.
Florida Highway Patrol Director Gene Spaulding says despite Major Welches memo, FHP troopers never felt they were expected to meet quotas.
“They have never been disciplined they have never been evaluated. There’s been no punitive damages. They’ve never been rewarded strictly for writing citations,” said FHP Director, Colonel Gene Spaulding.
The Florida Highway Patrol is currently reviewing its options for disciplinary action against Major Welch.
For now, Rhodes believes the department has done enough.
“We feel like there’s going to be no other type of mistake that was made like that and that there are no quotas within the highway patrol,” said Rhodes.
Department officials say although quotas are not enforced at FHP they still expect their troops to be productive and actively issue tickets when appropriate.
In addition to the online training course FHP supervisory positions will now include language specifying quotas are not permitted in their job descriptions.

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New Florida CFO Attends First Cabinet Meeting

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
New Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis attended his first Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
The meeting began with a prayer written and read by his so,n Johnny Patronis.
At the meeting Patronis introduced his new Chief of Staff, Ryan West.
Patronis says his first meeting was, “fantastic.”
“I was really impressed with the quality of folks that are doing great things in the state of Florida and what can I say. The Governor and Attorney General Pam Bondi and Commissioner Putnam have done a great job showing their stewardship over this state,” said Patronis.
After the meeting when asked if he plans to try and keep his seat as CFO when his term expires next year Patronis answered, it’s a real possibility.

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Governor and Cabinet Vote to Bar State Investments in Venezuela

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida’s $150 billion pension plan doesn’t have any investments in the Venezuela and after action by the Governor and Cabinet today it wont in the future.
The move was an act of protest by the state against the country’s current President, Nicolas Maduro.
“We evaluated a number of opportunities as I said and I thank the trustees for their prudence and thoroughness. We looked at this very carefully. We reconciled essentially the facts, the law and our fiduciary duty and we believe what we did today was prudent and within all of our obligations,” said Ash Williams, Executive Director of the State Board of Administration.
The restrictions have been criticized by Democrats who say they should also apply to companies that invest in Venezuela, like Goldman Sachs.

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Governor and Attorney General Silent on President Trump’s Controversial Comments on Charlottesville Tragedy

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi reacted to the events that transpired in Charlottesville South Carolina over the weekend, when a group of white nationalists protesting the removal of a confederate monument clashed with counter protesters killing one and injuring 19.
Both leaders condemned the racist agenda of the white nationalists.
However they were silent when it came to responding to criticism of President Trump’s recent statements on the tragedy.
In a series of tweets the President claimed the blame for the tragedy was shared between both the white nationalist groups and those protesting their cause.
“I did not see his last press conference, but I think the first statement he gave was three hours after the incident or a few hours after the incident when they didn’t know all the groups involved and some people are saying he said other sides some people are saying he said many sides,” said Bondi. “All I can tell you is how I feel and I will tell him and I think it’s pretty much what Ivanka Trump tweeted as well. The KKK, White Supremacists, Neo Nazis… I’m missing some. There are so many groups out there filled with hatred and violence and they will not be tolerated. Nor [should] they be tolerated in our state and in our country.”
“If you want to ask president Trump what he said you can ask him, said Governor Scott, “I’m telling you right now that I don’t believe in racism, I don’t believe in bigotry . What happened in Charlottesville was evil. There’s no moral equivalency between the two sides. A young lady was murdered. We lost two law enforcement officers. Every elected official needs to figure out how to bring our country together.”
Both Governor Scott and Attorney General Bondi are two of Trumps earliest supporters.

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FPS Considers Utilities Rate Hikes for Proposed Nuclear Plants

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida Power and Light is asking the Florida Public Service Commission for approval to increase their rates to help pay for two proposed nuclear power plants.
The request has upset a number of groups that say the FPL is taking advantage of a 2006 law that allows it to recover costs for nuclear construction early. The critics say FPL wont commit to a price tag or completion date for the project which has already used up 300 million in tax payer dollars.
“And the question is- why should the commission keep all this additional risk and cost on FPL customers if FPL isn’t willing to show that this is a good deal for the families and the businesses that are going to have to pay the bills,” said George Cavros, an Attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The Public service commission heard arguments from both sides today and will likely come out with a decision within six to eight weeks.

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State Agencies Get Crash Course in Cyber Defense

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Agency for State Technology and the Florida National Guard are teaming up this week to put the cyber security of state agencies to the test.
IT staff from multiple state agencies are undergoing training exercises using real life scenarios of cyber threats. While one team tries to break into a system, the other side tries to defend against it.
“To take systems with vulnerabilities and to have one side of the group exploiting them and the other side trying to mitigate it, eliminate the vulnerabilities and of course get the bad actors out of their system. So it is modeled after real world scenarios and we’re happy to be able to give them practice without it being real,” said Eric Larson, Executive Director of the Agency for State Technology.
The training continues through Wednesday.

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Closing Arguments Made in Segura Trial

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The question facing jurors Tuesday night in the state capitol was who killed this mother and her three children.
The state says Henry Segura killed all four to avoid paying twenty thousand in back child support. But the defense says she was killed by an international drug cartel because she was skimming profits.
“He wanted to get out from under the burden of that child support,” said Assistant State Attorney Jon Fuchs.
“We know that she fought to her death, yet no scratches, at all, consistent with that kind of fight,  on Mr. Segura,” said Defense Attorney Nathan Prince.
The defense also raised questions about four sets of bloody foot prints at the scene and the fact the defendants DNA was not found, while DNA matching a know drug smuggler was discovered. Henry Segura is facing a death sentence for the murders.

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FSU Research Shows Oxygen Levels in the Ocean Are Declining

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott announced major gains in tourism today.
A record setting 60.7 million visitors came to the sunshine State in the first six months of this year, but FSU researchers say one of the states biggest draws, our ocean and gulf waters, are facing a challenge.
94-million years ago ocean life took a major hit due to a 50,000 year decline in oxygen levels in the water.
At the time it was caused by a spike in volcanic activity which dumped carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Now it appears the same thing is happening again only FSU researchers say mankind has taken over the role of producing the carbon dioxide.
“Over the last 50 years we’ve had about a 2% loss of oxygen in our oceans and so if you sort of multiply that by the next 50,000 years,” said Jermey Owens, an assistant Geology Professor at FSU who helped write the study.
50,000 years may sound like a long ways away, but the number isn’t set in stone.
“We’ve never had an increase in CO2 as quickly as we quickly as we have… and so these things could be expanding much more rapidly,” said Owens.
CO2 isn’t the only culprit behind the problem. Fertilizers and nutrients from humans also contribute to declining oxygen levels, the effects of which can be seen in our own state.
“These nutrients that we sort of end up releasing near our coastlines cause red tides. One of the major impacts of these red tides is not just the toxic release of different compounds that they do, but also that theres actually a major draw down on oxygen and we’ve seen this,” said Owens.
For Florida to reduce its contributions to ocean deoxgenation researchers say the state needs to make a greater commitment to renewable energy, reduce pollution from fertilizers and increase efforts to protect the state’s wetlands, which help replenish oxygen levels in the water.
According to the most recent statistics Ocean tourism contributed $8 billion to Florida’s economy.

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From France to Florida’s Capital

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The American Legion Post in the State Capital is home to a special piece of history with significance for both France and the United States.
Exactly 73 years ago today American troops with General Patton’s army liberated the town of Brou France from the Germans in WWII.
This mile marker was erected to signify the event.
It was donated to the state of Florida in 1949 and sat in the basement of the Senate building until 1988 when it was rediscovered and donated to the American Legion post in Tallahassee.
Every year on August 14th the town of Brou holds a celebration and ceremony commemorating their liberation and in Tallahassee, veterans like John Folson take the time to remember those Americans who gave their lives to make it possible.
“As people walk by and they read it, they gain a little bit of history and insight and when they see the names that are at the foot of this monument, hopefully they do know that there were sacrifices made in their country, for our country. You know, that means a lot,” said Folsom.
Folsom hopes to organize a ceremony for next year’s anniversary. He hopes to include the citizens of Brou by connecting via Skype.

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HECC Seeks to Increase Number of Floridians With Post-Secondary Educations

August 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Two out of three Floridians don’t have a college degree.
A state panel is recommending strategies to raise the number of degree or certificate holders to 55 percent over the next 8 years.
The Higher Education Coordinating Council says to meet their goal of getting more than half of Floridians a degree in higher education the state needs to put more emphasis on two year trade degrees and expand internet access in rural communities.
66% of Floridians don’t have a college degree. To bring that number down, the Chairman of the Higher Education Coordinating Council says the state needs to highlight the value of trade degrees.
“Not everybody needs a college degree, not everybody needs a bachelors degree to achieve their dream. We need all types of folks to make Florida work, whether you’re a welder, an electrician, there’s an amazing type of pride in those types of jobs,” said HECC Chair, Alan Levine.
Board member Al Stimac says encouraging Floridians to pursue trade degrees will also boost Florida’s economy.
“We are actually importing hourly people because we can’t find them in the state of Florida. We have a field now that we can create jobs in Florida, high paying jobs, but we can’t attract industry because we don’t have the skill set,” said Stimac.
HECC also identified poor internet connectivity as a road block to higher education for many Floridans living in rural areas.
“It appears as if the communities that have the lowest level of connectivity also have the lowest levels of educational attainment, whether it’s certificates, or two year degrees, or four year degrees. Having access to online is critical, and not just for education but for the whole economic development of any community,” said board member Dr. Ed Moore.
The Panel wants Legislators to expand internet  infrastructure to get more Floridians online so they can expand their educational opportunities.
There are currently 680,000 Floridians living without broadband access in the state.
As the state makes progress, The Higher Education Coordinating Council is considering pushing for a goal of having six out of ten residents with a degree or certificate.

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Magbanua Trial Date Set

July 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A judge has ruled Katherine Magbanua, a woman accused of orchestrating the murder of FSU law professor, Dan Markel three years ago was not receiving payment for her legal team from Markel’s ex-wife’s family.
The judge did say her team is being paid for by a 3rd party, did not disclose who was fronting the money.
“They’re going to be proved wrong on their accusations that there’s a conflict of interest in funding just like they’ll be proved wrong on the murder of the case. They were just proved wrong. They’re making these accusations based on little pieces of information. They’re trying to connect imaginary dots with invisible lines,” said Magbanua’s attorney Christopher De Coste.
A trial date was also set for Magbanua, for January 22nd, the same day as her boy friend, Sigfredo Garcia who is accused of carrying out the murder of Markel.

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OJ Simpson Plans to Return to Florida After Being Released

July 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Is Florida the next stop for OJ Simpson? Simpson has been granted Parole in Nevada and has said he wants to come to Florida to be near his adult children who  live in St. Petersburg.
There’s a better than even chance he will be granted the transfer.
A Golf Course in Panama City was one of OJ Simpson’s first stop after his October 1995 acquittal in his wife’s murder.
Sentenced to 33 years on 12 charges after committing armed robbery in Las Vegas, he has been paroled after just nine years.
Florida is in a group of 30 states which regularly transfers prison inmates and parolees between their boarders.
But Parol expert  Reggie Garcia says with such a high profile figure, things could get tricky.
“Of course anything that involves Mr. Simpson is less than routine,” said Garcia.
The Florida Department of Corrections will look favorably on the fact he has family in the state and is a former resident.
But there are other factors at play.
“Does this parolee have a good chance at succeeding and being successfully supervised,” said Garcia.
OJ has a long rap sheet in Florida.
While boating, he was ticketed for speeding through a manatee zone, he was accused but acquitted of road rage and had his home raided in connection with an ecstasy smuggling ring although no evidence was found.
The DOC released a statement saying, “If Nevada’s request meets all criteria, Florida must accept the transfer….he will be assigned a Florida probation officer and will be supervised in accordance with the conditions of his parole.”
The question still remains though, what if the community doesn’t want Simpson back?
Florida US Representative Al Lawson says, although OJ is a polarizing figure, all inmates who have served their time should be given the opportunity to try and reintegrate in society.
“Maybe they can become productive and do something productive with kids,” said Al Lawson.
Simpson is set to be released for parole in October. Once Simpson is approved for a transfer by Nevada, Florida will have 45 days to decide whether on not to accept  him.
The DOC can add extra conditions to Simpson’s parole in order to secure his return if they choose to do so.

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New Proposal by US Attorney General May Sidestep Florida Civil Forfeiture Laws

July 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
There’s concern in Florida tonight after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would be expanding circumstances in which law enforcement agencies can use civil forfeiture.
There’s a fear the proposed policy would allow law enforcement agencies to side step state laws restricting the practice.
Under Florida law, for police to seize assets from a person, with some exceptions, must first make an arrest.
The proposed federal policy would allow police to seize assets without any evidence if they are willing to share the goods with the Federal Government.
Criminal defense attorney Richard Greenberg is concerned the new policy would create scenarios where people’s assets could be taken in way not allowed under Florida law.
“An innocent owner can have their property seized and then they have to fight to try and get that property back,” said Greenberg.
State Senator Jeff Brandes sponsored unanimously approved legislation in 2016, which created the restrictions on civil forfeiture in Florida.
“This, I think, highlights property rights exist,” said Sen. Brandes.
Now he fears Session’s proposal would damage the states control over the practice.
The 2016 law that requires an arrest before property can be seized. It also requires local agencies to begin reporting seizures to the state.
The first report is due in October.
Orange County Sheriff and president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association Jerry Demings says the proposed Federal policy change includes a number of restrictions and safe guards, which he believes will prevent miss use of civil forfeitures.
“I don’t see it as opening anything up… to the contrary it really tightens the rules up,” said Demings.
Still, Attorney Richard Greenberg says any expansion to civil forfeiture could open the door to abuse.
“It’s been called policing for profit. Where law enforcement agencies are more concerned about seizing assets to fund their own operations than they are for public safety,” said Greenberg.
Nearly half of the states have passed laws restricting civil forfeiture, Florida’s law is not the most restrictive.
According to the Florida Sheriff’s Association local law enforcement would only be able to side step state law in cases where an agency is working directly with Federal Law Enforcement.

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New Law Allows Victims of Terrorism to Sue for Damages

July 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A new Florida law gives victims of terrorism and their families the ability to seek reparations in court.
Legislative support was overwhelming, but the new policy does raise some questions.
Victims of terrorism have always been able to seek damages for injuries they suffered.
Bu the new law that took effect July first, allows victims to specifically sue on the basis of being a victim of terror.
The law creates a civil cause of action for a person injured by an act of terrorism.
Victims are entitled to attorney’s fees and a minimum of $1,000 in damages.
Civil Trial Lawyer Harry Graham says the addition of attorney fees gives the law teeth.
“It’s an incentive for attorneys to take the case to bring justice to their clients and it’s also an incentive for the defendant to settle the case,” said Graham.
The law comes a year after the Pulse Night Club Shooting, which claimed 49 lives.
It’s designed not only as a way to help victims, but also deter terrorism.
Terrorism has a broad definition in the State of Florida, raising the question of what cases the law will apply to.
Mark Schlakman with the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University says anytime a new law related to terrorism goes into effect the question of how to appropriately narrow the definition of terrorism is raised.
“Lone actors, who whether they’re mentally imbalanced or not, acting on their own initiative, how should we characterize that? And what are the implications in terms of law enforcement and prevention of terrorist acts,” said Schlakman.
Attorney Graham expects people to test the waters with this law, but he points out there are penalties included in the law for someone who frivolously sues another for terrorism.
“They have allowed for the defendants to recover attorney’s fees and costs if the case is deemed frivolous,” said Graham.
Although Graham believes the new law wont be used often, he says when it is properly invoked it will have more teeth than previous options available to victims.
Victims have up to 5 years to file suit, but the timeline can be extended by two years if a prosecution is ongoing.

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ACLU Seeks End to Abortion Waiting Period

July 19th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A 2015 law requiring women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion remains on hold tonight. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, a circuit judge in the state Capitol today gave the state 60 days to prove the state has a compelling interest in delaying abortions.

The 24 hour waiting period was passed and signed into law in 2015. It’s been in court every since. In February the State Supreme Court chastised an appellate court for allowing the law to go into effect. It concluded the mandatory delay law infringes on a woman’s right to privacy. Then it sent the case back to the trial level.

On Wednesday, Julia Kaye of the ACLU asked Judge Terry Lewis to rule the law unconstitutional.

“The only thing this law does is impose a one size fits all mandate that she must delay her procedure by 24 hours, even if she’s ready” the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project lawyer told the court.

But  Denise Harlee, Deputy Solicitor General asked for more time to gather evidence.

“We would like to look at facts from other states that do have a waiting period to show that women are changing their minds” Harlee told the judge.

Judge Terry Lewis made it clear the state has a huge hurdle to prove the law isn’t a burden on women.

“It’s Been going on a long time. I think if I were in your shoes, I’d be ready a long time ago.”

Still, he gave the state 60 days to prove its case.

“On the other hand, I think it’s very important that whatever happens here. there is a complete record” said Lewis.

Richard Johnson, the attorney for Gainesville Woman Care, who challenged the law, thinks the writing is on the wall.

“It does seem like he wants to bullet proof what he’s doing, and make sure that’s it’s just beyond challenge” said Johnson afterward.

Since 2015, the twenty-four hour wait has only been in effect  for about two months.

ACLU’s Julia Kaye it’s impact was still felt.

“And what we saw is that it caused tremendous harm” says Kaye.

Even after a likely October decision, the 24 hour wait is likely to remain in limbo as more appeals grind through the system

Florida’s Constitution has a stronger right to privacy than most states and the US Constitutions. The ACLU argued the wait has had the biggest impact on poor women, forcing them to take extra days off work, find childcare and additional transportation.

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